How to prevent chronic disease is becoming an increasingly important question in today’s society. We all know that a healthy lifestyle is the key to a long and happy life. But now there’s science behind the idea that prevention is better than cure. We asked British GP DR NEIL FORREST to tell us why Lifestyle Medicine may hold the key to better health.
What is Lifestyle Medicine and how does it help prevent chronic disease?
The great challenge faced by doctors today is chronic disease. Research shows that lifestyle choices play a role in these conditions, and Lifestyle Medicine (LM) seeks to address these issues to improve health and wellbeing. Originating in the US, it is a rapidly growing field that’s being adopted worldwide as the future of preventative medicine. LM focuses on the use of evidence-based lifestyle interventions to prevent, treat and manage chronic diseases.
Years of experience have shown me that simple advice such as “exercise more” or “eat less” isn’t effective. LM doctors play the role of a coach, working in collaboration with their patient. Together they determine values, goals and motivations and harness these to enable lasting behavioural changes.
What are the six pillars of Lifestyle Medicine?
They are nutritional health, mental wellbeing and managing stress, positive social connections, exercise, minimising harmful substances (like alcohol or smoking) and restorative sleep. By making positive changes in these areas, you can reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases and can even treat and reverse certain conditions.
What types of chronic disease is it aimed to fight?
LM targets chronic diseases including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, respiratory and musculoskeletal conditions, and mental health issues. Studies show that the pillars are much more potent at prolonging lifespan and “healthspan” (the number of years you are healthy without debilitating disease) than any drugs currently available.
How does Lifestyle Medicine work?
We review your overall health and wellbeing against the six pillars with a comprehensive Lifestyle Assessment. Depending upon the results, we may recommend involvement from a muti-disciplinary team of professionals. The doctor and professionals work in tandem to review progress. This is one of the key differences – there’s a “programme” in place. You’re not left on your own!
What types of disciplines are involved?
Nutritionists, trainers, psychologists, smoking cessation specialists, health coaches and more. We’ve steadily built up a network of excellent allied health professionals that we trust and collaborate with.
When should someone go for assessment?
I recommend anyone to have a Lifestyle Assessment who:
- has reviewed the six pillars and has concerns about one or more;
- has chronic diseases and wants to better manage them;
- has a family history of chronic disease and wants help to reduce their own risk;
- wants to get generally healthier but needs clear guidance on how to enhance energy levels, mental clarity, immune function and overall vitality;
- has tried and failed to make lifestyle changes; or
- feels they’re lacking motivation in taking steps to optimise their overall wellbeing.
Can you give an example of results achieved by Lifestyle Medicine?
In the case of type 2 diabetes, medications are probably only ever going to keep people standing still. Lifestyle interventions to improve diet, exercise and sleep have been proven to help many people achieve diabetes reversal. This is LM at its best!
Does this mean you’re abandoning treatments like drugs and surgery?
Definitely not! Pharmaceuticals still play a key role in the management and prevention of many diseases. LM recognises this but aims to maximise optimisation of the six pillars alongside other management strategies.
This article first appeared in the October 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe so you never miss a copy!
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